WHAT A SHAME. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT THREAD OF INFORMATION AND DISCUSSION. INSTEAD IT TURNED INTO A CLASH OF BRUISED EGOS. YOU CAN READ THE ENTIRE COMMUNICATION THREAD BELOW.
Thank you to Emma Rossi-Landi and Alberto Vendemmiata for making a beautiful portrait of these lost children. Doesn't it always seem to be the children who suffer the most? The cinematography was beautiful. I'm not sure why there was such a focus on the 'rainy season' , but it seemed to work story wise. It lacked in painting a sensorial picture of just how hot and humid the Philippines can be. Mario Crispi's score was also fitting - although at times a bit too sleepy. I liked that they found a Tagalog song for the end credits. I very much recommend this film to anyone interested in the issue. It truly is a touching piece of filmmaking.
The Amerasian issue is a haunting and troubling one. I wish the filmmakers had shown how truly devastating the problem is. Many Amerasians are abandoned in the street. Unfortunately the filmmakers created a superficial issue that can be easily dismissed and forgotten by the audience.
I am in complete support of the principles behind the film. I will however explain where I think the film fails and how the issues should be addressed. I will also try to provide accurate information so you can create an informed opinion.
I certainly don't want to discredit the validity of the problem, or take away attention from these children. I stand firm that they deserve acknowledgement, respect and citizenship. I am writing this to point out the discrepancies in the film.
1. LBTS follows journalist Robert Gonzaga who was one of the 4 Amerasians left behind featured. Robert feels like he is a victim of a broken system. Therefore, the film focuses exclusively on the 'victims' and does not provide an accurate picture for the audience. It is irresponsible filmmaking to show 4 abandoned children from US servicemen and then throw statistics like 52,000 Amerasians in the Philippines and 737 US naval bases worldwide. Not all of these children have been abandoned and not all of these children are from US Servicemen. The filmmakers attempt to explain much of the the situation with a US navy enlistment officer, who has the appearance of a man who has seen too many late nights and too many bottles of Jim Beam.
2. The filmmakers chose to focus on Amerasians from black servicemen. This point has been criticized by other critics for enforcing stereotypes. I understand why they have done this. In the Philippines, one of the many colonial mentality hangovers is racism. The darker your skin, the uglier you are considered. This is enforced in the Philippines by a bombardment of mestizo actresses, celebrities, models, advertisements and commercials. White is considered beautiful and black is considered ugly. It is that simple. One thing the filmmakers left out is that, in some cases, the child's life is better because he is Amerasian. The Philippines is a country of contests, beauty pageants and appearance. This is not the point in the film, but including it would have silenced the critics. The fact is that there is a very small gap between Amerasians with white and black paternity. However, due to discrimination, the mothers of African-American Amerasians abandon their children at a much greater rate than Caucasian Amerasians.
3. Victims. The film really put a strong emphasis on the servicemen being the problem. I feel the film lead the audience to believe all the service men just cut and run. I think it is important for the audience to see other sides. Yes, some servicemen just indiscriminately cut a swath through as many women as they can without any thought of consequence. But there are also many men who have no idea the children exist.
I really believe the filmmakers chose the wrong subjects in trying to make their point. Instead, they created empathy for the subjects through audience manipulation. They used the everyday struggle of Filipinos to try and get us to believe it is related to their paternity. Aside from the 'negro' issue, it is not. I am not saying this problem does not exist, just that it was manufactured in this film. Let's take a closer look.
ROBERT: Robert's mother admitted she cut off communication with his father when he denied paternity. Then she goes on to say that suddenly Robert's father wanted to see him! - "He wouldn't help us financially. What could he give us?". With an open line of communication and DNA testing, this could have been corrected.
JR: JR's father acknowledged JR as his son and signed all the appropriate paperwork even though he had another family in the US. Communication was re-established and JR believes it was cut off a second time because his mother was asking for money.
MARGARITA: Margarita is second generation and is affected by the fact she is part 'negro'. Her father and her live in 'extreme poverty' (not just poor), but so does 27% of the Philippines. We were never given the full story of Margarita's father aside from his father being a US serviceman is WW II.
CHARLENE: Charlene's father acknowledged her and also brought her to live in the United States for 5 years.
So I am unclear as to why the filmmakers chose to give the statistics, 52,000 Amerasian and 737 naval bases, when the US servicemen, for the most part seemed to be taking responsibility when given the opportunity. I know this is not always the case, but it seemed to be in this film. I am sure Robert's research is much more insightful, it is just a shame it was so lost in this film. Robert states in a powerful monologue that he want acknowledgment and for his father to know he exists. His father tried...any chance at a successful relationship was squashed by his mother.
What could have corrected this for me was if the filmmakers explained that even if the child has the paperwork, they must file it before reaching 18 years of age- again, information the filmmakers allowed the drunkard to explain ineffectively. The problem is that without the Father's help, they may be in line with the other quarter of a million Filipinos applying for US naturalization. The only other option is to establish a relationship with the father. To establish "immediate relative" status, however, a child must demonstrate a "bona fide parent-child relationship" with their father. In order to establish such a bona fide relationship, the child must provide evidence of an actual parent-child relationship with the citizen father. This is the 'true' problem these children are facing in the film. The filmmaker's failed to explain this.
4. Illegitimacy: I think it is important to explain just how devastating Illegitimacy is - although Robert was the only true illegitimate subject in the film. A birth certificate in the Philippines reads GIVEN NAMES/ MOTHER'S MAIDEN NAME/ FATHER'S NAME whether they are married or not. If the child has the same last name as their mother and the mother is not married, they are illegitimate. There is no separation of church and state in the Philippines. The discrimination against illegitimate children is staggering. I have heard about people being passed over for jobs, not being allowed to date and being teased by other children etc. This is a big deal there. The bigger hurdle that some of the children in the film have to face is that their mother was a prostitute. This is far more damaging to them than the fact they are illegitimate. This, again, is due to the catholic church rearing their ugly head - they punish those who need their help the most.
5. Amerasian Act: The filmmakers did a horrifically terrible job at explaining the issue here.
In 1982, Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act to allow these children from Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, without their mothers or their siblings, to immigrate to the United States to live with American sponsor families. The Philippines is not the only country excluded from this act. Japan is also excluded.
I really wish the filmmakers had included more information. They state pieces of information. This leads the audience to believe that the issue was dropped because prostitution is illegal, the individual soldiers are responsible, and that the US defense invoked the right not to be sued. This is somewhat correct, but not entirely.
The US invoking the right not to be sued had nothing to do with the Amerasian Act. It was the US defense from a class action law suit in 1993 for redress of the children's grievances in federal court. The court denied the claim, ruling that the children were the products of unmarried women who provided sexual services to US service personnel in the Philippines and were therefore engaged in illicit acts of prostitution. Such illegal activity could not be the basis for any legal claim. This is a flaw in the legal system which desperately needs to be addressed. Ex turpi causa non oritur actio (Latin for "from a dishonorable cause an action does not arise") is a legal doctrine which states that a claimant will be unable to pursue a cause of action if it arises in connection with his own illegal act. Particularly relevant in the law of contract, tort and trusts, ex turpi causa is also known as the "illegality defence", since a defendant may plead that even though, for instance, he broke a contract, conducted himself negligently or broke an equitable duty, nevertheless a claimant by reason of her own illegality cannot sue. This dismissal may have been more a case of the claimants wording and clients than the actual legitimacy of the case. It was a " $68 million lawsuit arguing that the United States has a legal responsibility to educate and provide medical care for an estimated 8,600 Amerasians in Olongapo."
Local Filipino views of the class-action lawsuit varied then. Olongopo's mayor at the time, Richard Gordon, himself the grandson of an American, called the suit simplistic. "It demeans us to ask for money," he said.
One also has to understand that the Philippine government must back this mission. Acknowledging the Amerasians would also acknowledge how widespread prostitution was and is in this proudly Catholic country. The Philippines are notorious for sweeping issues under the carpet. They are also one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It seems if the Philippines truly wanted to generate awareness and help, now would be an excellent time. As of February 2012, the US Military are looking to create a larger presence in the Philippines. This could be used as a bargaining chip. You can read more here.
An interviewee goes on to state that nothing has been done since.
The truth is, between 1997 and 2001, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, introduced a bill three times that would permit Filipino and Japanese Amerasians to be eligible for PL 97-359. The bill was reviewed many times and submitted to the Judiciary committee. However, there was no action taken by the senate committee. It was concluded that both Filipino and Japanese Amerasians were not subjected to barrages of discrimination, prejudices, hatred, and mothers were majority prostitutes. Also, the Philippines and Japan were not war zones. It was again introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the Amerasian Naturalization Act of 2005 [Bill Number: H.R. 2687] which generated bipartisan support of 20 members of Congress.
In my opinion, the single biggest issue and what has not been proven, and was not in the film, is that for almost 50 years the US Navy had unofficially sanctioned prostitution both inside the base at Subic and later in the bars and nightclubs in the neighbouring city of Olongapo. The Navy paid the prostituted women for their sexual labour, paid for medical and educational services, provided a maternity award for the birth of any children, and even forced some American fathers to pay child support. By assuming responsibility for the health and other needs of the children and their mothers, the US Navy had accepted an implied contract, the provisions of which were then violated when the pull-out took place. I suspect that some of the class action law suit also made these claims.
I also wish the filmmaker's had done a better job at proving discrimination. Focusing on the 'negro' issue only addresses one aspect. Unfortunately, this is the case if you are native Aeta, or just a darker Filipino. It is not exclusive to being half black.
It is tragic that Japan and The Philippines have been excluded from the Amerasian Act. Japan however has a reciprocal agreement with the government of the United States where a parent living abroad continues to be bound by child support orders or agreements so long as the children are resident in one of the countries. No such agreement exists with the Philippines.
One of the problems with having foreigners making film in places like the Philippines is that they get a sensory overload. They start to create a story from the Western perspective. They structure it around the Western preconception of oppressive conditions. When a filmmaker starts to rely on that preconception, like in this film, the issue gets lost and forgotten. I believe Emma and Alberto are masters at matching image and sound. It is a beautiful film, they were simply very wrong in telling this story. They relied on audience ignorance to make their points. As an audience member of this film, I found that insulting. It shows that the film was made to evoke an emotional response and win some awards. When the film's credits were ending I was wondering...How do I help?...Where do I donate? Here is one place AMERASIAN FOUNDATION
The filmmakers have now provided a link from their website to sign a petition.
To Emma and Alberto. Again, thank you, but your responsibility does not end after you broadcast the film, tour the festivals and release the DVD. To me, and to your audience, I would insist that you are an active part of these children's lives. You exploited their stories for your professional gain. I know there is not much money in independent documentary filmmaking, but I hope you dedicate a percentage to educating these children.
In closing, the issue is more complicated than one might expect. The bottom line is that there are thousands of children who need help. The US has used legalities and wording to skirt the issue and avoid a massive financial burden. LBTS succeeded in creating a piece for water cooler talk, but completely failed in educating people. While I feel this film created a beautiful and haunting portrait of the Filipino struggle. I was disappointed that it didn't provide a concrete structure and defense for the forgotten, ignored and illegitimate children who were truly 'Left by the Ship'.
A RESPONSE WRITTEN BY DIRECTOR/ PRODUCER Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati
IN REPSONSE TO your thoughts after watching LEFT BY THE SHIP.http://aswangmovie.blogspot.com/2012/02/left-by-ship-documentary.html
Hi. Thanks again for expressing your points of view about our film. We are not inclined to answer to a negative - or partially negative- critique but this is feeling like a personal and professional attack, to us, you are making some wrong assumptions and statements which are not true. So it is important for us to answer and give readers a clarification on what you say.
1."It is irresponsible filmmaking to show 4 abandoned children from US servicemen and then throw statistics like 52,000 Amerasians in the Philippines and 737 US naval bases worldwide. Not all of these children have been abandoned and not all of these children are from US Servicemen."
The fact that some Amerasians were recognized and brought with their fathers to the USA, does not deny that others were not and vice versa. We interviewed about 100 Amerasians between 2007 and 2009. None of them had reunited with their fathers in recent years. Some had contact that was then interrupted. Some where given hopes that they would go to the USA, but that did not happen. That's just the fact. We interviewed people in Olongapo, Angeles and Manila. This was the reality we found.
We know there are other luckier Ameraisans out there. We know there are many Filipino Amerasians who live in the US, or are in better conditions than the ones we met, who may feel unhappy with how the film confronts the topic. But Left By The Ship tells the stories of the many unlucky ones, who live in poverty in the Philippines.
I must point out that maybe things have changed since we finished shooting. For example, there is a site which is very active in locating fathers and matching them with their Amerasian children. That's a great help. Unfortunately, that was not the case when we filmed. If James Erik had already started his bloghttp://filamerasians.blogspot.com/ we would have loved to include him and all those success stories in the film. In fact, we would have loved one or more success stories, but they just did not happen. A documentary filmmaker has no right to force the reality he is filming to that point.
We were also ready to change subjects and film someone else, if we heard there was a possibility of them reuniting with their Dad’s. But that just did not happen either.
Maybe we did not look in the right places, but we definitely felt it was the story of these truly abandoned Amerasians that was most urgent for us to tell.
-The 50,000 estimate was given to us by the Pearl S.Buck Foundation and it is all over the web. Pearl S. Buck herself invented the word Amerasian. The word Amerasian indicates a person who was born to a us servicemen and an Asian mother. So it is the children of U.S. servicemen only, that the statistic is talking about. That is a large number
-The number of US Bases in the world, is given for western viewers to realize how this could happen or has happened everywhere, if policies are not changed.
2. “The filmmakers attempt to explain much of the the situation with a US navy enlistment officer, who has the appearance of a man who has seen too many late nights and too many bottles of Jim Beam.”
-This man is the head of the “Retired Activities Office” in Subic Bay. He also collaborates with the U.S. consulate. In Olongapo, he is the one person everyone goes to ask questions about US citizenship. He has helped several Amerasians out and I wouldn't be so prejudice about him or his drinking habits, because even he were a drinker, he is a good person and a very well informed man.
3.“The filmmakers chose to focus on Amerasians from black servicemen.”
It is obviously stated in the film that we follow the children of African American servicemen because they are victims of the most discrimination. Robert is not of African-American origins as are many other of the people shown in the film. Many of our viewers have pointed out how they sense the discrimination suffered by the subjects not through the “negro” comments, but through the way they perceive themselves. And this is true for both white and African American Amerasians alike.
4.“Victims. The film really put a strong emphasis on the servicemen being the problem.”
-In no way does the film intend to blame the servicemen. In fact, we show how many times it was the relationships with the mothers that caused communication to be interrupted..
To us, this proves that the single person can not be held responsible for such a widespread phenomenon. People are people everywhere and men and relationships are difficult. If the US government had not sent those soldiers to the Philippines, this would not have happened. The film hopes to attract the attention of the authorities responsible for what happened.
Moreover, the fact that the children were indeed acknowledged in many case, confirms the servicemen's good intentions at start. The responsibility for so many kids being left behind cannot be put on a young man, who often times is even too young to take this kind for responsibility or know how to handle the situation.
5.“Amerasian Act: The filmmakers did a horrifically terrible job at explaining the issue here.”
The film only mentions the Amerasian act at the beginning and at the end. At the beginning through an American news reel, and in the end with a caption card. Yes, the Japanese were deliberately excluded, because their situation is very different and this film talks about the Filipinos.
6.“The US invoking the right not to be sued had nothing to do with the Amerasian Act.”
Yes, in fact, at 41:01 minutes in the film Alma Bulawan from Buklod (an ex-sex-workers organization which participated in the class suit) says " in 1992 we filed a class suit but it was dismissed". What we are talking about in that segment is the class suit not the Amerasian Act. You did not follow this correctly.
7. "An interviewee goes on to state that nothing has been done since.The truth is, between 1997 and 2001, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, introduced a bill three times that would permit Filipino and Japanese Amerasians to be eligible for PL 97-359.”
- Robert asks: "Did anybody else pick up this cause or initiate another campaign?" I would not call that a campaign, rather a political attempt that did not succeed. Btw the topic here is still the class suit.
8“ It is a beautiful film, they were simply very wrong in telling this story. They relied on audience ignorance to make their points. As an audience member of this film, I found that insulting. It shows that the film was made to evoke an emotional response and win some awards.”
We did not try to prove a point. We did not go there with a preconceived agenda. We chose to tell the intimate story of 4 Amerasians. There are many others in that same condition and many others in different conditions. But we tell these 4 stories. We spent a long time with our protagonists and got to know them well. We felt telling the pain they have inside, was the best way to let the world know of their plight. It's true, we also found Amerasians have many of the same problems other Filipinos do. But it's the way they feel that makes them different. Feelings are not easily depicted in a documentary. We used the cinematography and the style to convey the feelings, we tried to do a good job, but not just pointing to win some award. We believe that following someone's life closely can be much more informative that a list of infos, it will tell you something that numbers and facts cannot do.
And as you say yourself the information we give is not WRONG it is simply not detailed. The detail is on the emotions. There is no political point we are trying to prove, a part from the fact that it is always the most innocent, who pay the consequences of global policies. And often, the children pay the consequences of their parents mistakes.
Do you disagree with that?
9."The filmmakers have now provided a link from their website to sign a petition."
This petition was set up by Mr Jimmy Edwards from http://amerasianslookingtheirroots.bravehost.com/
He is an ex servicemen who is desperately trying to reunite with his daughter.
10. Again, thank you, but your responsibility does not end after you broadcast the film, tour the festivals and release the DVD. To me, and to your audience, I would insist that you are an active part of these children's lives. You exploited their stories for your professional gain.
You do not have any idea of how much commitment we have had towards these children and their cause. It is very insulting you would imply that is not the case. You can say this film has too little info for your taste, but you can certainly not say it is lacking heart or respect for the people shown. Everything we filmed was chosen by our protagonists. We also helped them economically or practically, despite the risk involved, of spoon-feeding or pampering. As a filmmaker you are not God and you must be very careful about how much you interfere in your subject's lives.
In any case, a donation system is being set up for the Usa broadcast in May.
11." I was disappointed that it didn't provide a concrete structure and defense for the forgotten, ignored and illegitimate children who were truly 'Left by the Ship'.
A documentary is not a legal case, even the most journalistic type of doc will show the directors point of view. We chose to give more space to the emotions of our subjects and less to the information. It is a painting, a “trance-de-vie” in which you get involved with the characters – not the info- and for us, that pushes viewers to care about the issue. This might work or not to you, but it was a choice. It works for others. I see you read the film in a different direction of what was intended. I guess you are starting out from a point of view which made you see certain things and not pick up others. It is interesting to know. Since you are a filmmaker, why don’t you make a more informational documentary on the topic? We chose differently, and we know this is raising consciousness on the Amerasian cause, the emotional bonding works very well with many of our viewers. So, since I see you really care about this issue I hope you will be able to consider what good the film can do. Many thanks, Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati
We hope you will not erase this post!!!
RESPONSE TO Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati
Thank you for taking the time to respond.
First, I would like to reiterate (as I said in my original post), thank you for making a beautiful portrait of these children's lives and the plight of lower income Filipinos. You should be proud. Your response will stay on my wall for as long as you leave it there. Ultimately isn't the point of documentary to get people talking? It is just upsetting that you feel so defensive against an audience member who disagrees with the presentation. You still got me talking...you have already won.
Are we only allowed to view the film the way you intended the audience to see it?
My 'critique' was in response to what I saw in the film, what was present in the film. While I appreciate the additional insight and information, I feel you are defending my 'negative' comments with information that wasn't given to the audience. So it seems to support my thoughts more than the work presented. You are introducing new information to deflect the fact it simply wasn't in the film.
There are only a few things I want to point out after reading your response. Most importantly, I never said you were not involved in these children's lives after the film, I merely insisted that you should be. You don't need to justify this to me or anyone else. That is between you, your subjects and your conscience. You said " As a filmmaker you are not God and you must be very careful about how much you interfere in your subject's lives. " I agree, but this does not provide filmmakers with moral ambiguity from the subjects or the audience, especially when those subjects are the whole reason the film exists. You also stated "We felt telling the pain they have inside, was the best way to let the world know of their plight." I hope you were not only present for the pain, but also for the healing.
The term Amerasian may have originated from a child of a US Serviceman and an Asian mother, but the term is certainly not exclusive to that anymore, just ask any Filipino.
I'd like to add that your defense is generally introduced by "we chose", or "we didn't intend" or "we did not try to". I am aware you "didn't intend" or "try to"- this is why I wrote my reaction in the first place - because I felt you should have. For me, as an audience member, I feel some things should have been better explained. As someone who is familiar with the issue, it painted an inaccurate picture.
I truly appreciate your time in explaining your knowledge of the situation and the behind the scenes happening that addressed my 'critiques'. The issues I brought up are important enough for you to respond and explain in a public document, perhaps it was also important enough to include in the film.
I wish you all the best and I look forward to your future work!
ANOTHER RESPONSE FROM THE FILMMAKERS
Yes. That's fine. We totally understand it did not come through to you as supposed to. No problem with that, everyone can see a film as they wish. Next time you write a critique though please do not attack the filmmakers personally with frases such as you did. Attacking someone personally and professionally (and posting on thier wall), implying they did not do their research right is not simply saying what you did not like in a film and why it did not work for you. You are going down pretty heavy there and you even say "to emma and alberto" . If your point was being a film critic, that is not what film critcs do. I understand you may have personal reason for having been so offensive, but your tone really requested a reponse. Again it's fine, the film did not get to you. We did not feel the need to justify ourselves with you, but to point out that the information we give is NOT WRONG and the film was not made with the preconceptions you see in it, at all.. Sure, thanks for talking about it. Hopefully we have now expressed our points of view. Cheers
MY FINAL RESPONSE
Yes I addressed you both in my thoughts. The first time was:
"Thank you to Emma Rossi-Landi and Alberto Vendemmiata"
and again as :
"To Emma and Alberto. Again, thank you, but your responsibility does not end after you broadcast the film, tour the festivals and release the DVD. To me, and to your audience, I would insist that you are an active part of these children's lives."
Was there someone else it should be address to other than the filmmakers? The credits read PRODUCED/ DIRECTED/ FILMED/and EDITED by Emma Rossi-Landi and Alberto Vendemmiata, so yes, I referred to the names of the filmmakers.
Is it really a personal attack to insist these children are cared for after they are exploited in a film? I NEVER said the information you gave was WRONG as you state, I said "I am in complete support of the principles behind the film. I will however explain where I think the film fails and how the issues should be addressed. I will also try to provide accurate information so you can create an informed opinion." The ONLY times I used 'WRONG' was in reference to the subjects you chose and in telling the story. I find it troubling how much liberty you are taking with my words.
Criticism is to point out mistakes and shortcomings. I think if you re-read my original thoughts you will find that I backed up my 'critiques' with accurate information. I also pointed out the positives of your film and how beautifully it was shot. It is a shame that you have become so defensive over the negatives instead of embracing the positives. Trust me, if you make embracing the positive and learning from the negative a habit when receiving criticism, you’ll save yourself from a bruised ego.
All the best.